4 tips that will help you embrace your yoga body and appreciate its capacity for movement and meditation.

It is one of my favorite yoga memes: “All bodies are yoga bodies.” But it has proven to be one of the hardest lessons for me to accept in my own practice.

Over the past two decades, yoga has led me on a long and difficult path toward love and acceptance for my body. But still, after all this time learning to love the flesh that I’m in, I find my heart closing and my fear rising before every new class. Even when I practice in the comfort of my own home with blossoming online communities like Zenward, I often find myself worrying that I don’t look anything like the people on the screen, or struggling to make my body work the same way as my instructors. Some days I even wonder if I belong in a yoga class at all.

If I have felt the depths of this kind of yoga body despair, I bet you have too.

The face of yoga isn’t going to change overnight, but social networks are providing space for yogis with diverse bodies and experiences.

Here are 4 tips that will help you maximize the potential of these online spaces, encouraging you to finally embrace your body’s capacity for movement and meditation.

  1. Start slow and build on what you know.

Don’t get so attached to succeeding in a specific style that you do too much too fast or give up from frustration. Just because a course is designed for beginners, don’t assume that means it will be ideal for every body. With so many different styles of yoga to choose from, it’s important to start with something that doesn’t push your physical boundaries too far. A challenge is great. An injury on your first day isn’t.

Take some time to figure out what it is you are seeking from a new practice. Visit different communities, watch videos from a variety of teachers. Ultimately yoga uses the body as a path through the mind, to the soul. Anything designed to free your spirit and open your mind is worth doing right. Just remember, doing it right means doing it in a way that actually works for you, not the way someone else says you should.

  1. Follow yogis that look like you.

When it comes to the physical movement of yoga, it’s easiest to figure out which style will work best for you by following practitioners whose bodies look a lot like yours. It might sound like an impossible task at first, but trust me when I tell you that the world of online yoga is vast and deep. Your yoga-body kin are out there!

Some of my personal yoga role models are Anna at Curvy Yoga, Jessamyn the “Yoga Enthusiast and Fat Femme” and Valerie at Big Gal Yoga. These curvy women are challenging stereotypes about yoga bodies, but they aren’t the only ones! Iyengar teacher Matthew Sanford is paralysed from the chest down. Sarah Eyre is a teacher who has multiple sclerosis. Follow people who can inform your personal practice with their individuality and enthusiasm.

  1. Modify a style to fit your body.

When I was first learned the sun salutation, I struggled to move my legs in and out of lunges. I never really felt comfortable with the series.

But when I started following yoga practitioners with bodies like mine, I was able to get a completely different perspective on transitions and modifications I could make. Sun salutations are a particular sticking point for many yogis with big bodies, while being a favorite of many teachers. After watching this great video from Amber Karnes of Body Positive Yoga, I stopped struggling through this sequence and was finally able to let go and relax into the movement.

  1. Walk into a class. (With confidence!)

You’ve had the chance to watch other yogis get into tough poses, you’re sufficiently inspired, and you feel like you have a grasp on which styles of yoga will work best for you. You have everything you need to walk into just about any yoga class. The only thing holding you back now is your own confidence, or rather, a lack thereof. Trust me, I’ve been there. And you can conquer this fear as well.

You want to know what you’re in for with a new class, and this goes beyond just confirming the style of yoga taught. If you can, chat with the teacher ahead of time and make sure they understand any physical limitations you might have. If you’re not comfortable with the teacher, or get the vibe that the teacher isn’t comfortable with you, at least you’ll know before you’re stuck in the studio with twenty other students.

When it’s time for class to start, come prepared and find a spot that will help limit your discomfort. If you’re worried about people watching you, try to get a spot near one side of the group, but don’t go so far back you can’t see the instructor. And if you’re more likely to be distracted by seeing too many other people, comparing your body to theirs, pick a spot front and center where you can really focus on your own movements.

And if online courses are still more your style, you will be well-equipped to modify your practice as needed and reach out for support to your community when you need help.

Practice Makes Perfect

Even if you still see your body as imperfect (don’t we all?) you will find that with a bit of determination and the help of other hard-working yogis out there, perfection is something you can strive for – in the love you feel for yourself, and the peace you find in your practice.

Don’t let a culture built on body-hate and physical shame keep you from that bliss. Your body is a yoga body. Put it on the mat where it belongs. Everything else will fall into place.

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